Thursday, December 24, 2009

Hopes dashed at Boulder Dash -- An Axis & Allies minis session

I've been wanting to get to this little scrap since last weekend, which would have been the 70th anniversary of the battle, but holiday tasks took priority and it was only on Christmas Eve that the Young General and the Old Warrior were able to sneak in a game of Axis & Allies Miniatures, Scenario WW-1, "Bolder Dash."

This firefight, from the Winter War between Finland and the Soviet Union, depicts an action fought on Dec. 19, 1939 at Summa, Finland.

The Soviet order of battle is very straightforward, with three commissars leading 11 squads of Soviet Moison-Nagant riflemen from the 138th Rifle Division against a fortified Finnish line. Helping the troops out is a KV-1 heavy tank that arrives on the second turn. By 1939 standards the KV-1 is a monster of a tank, with a defense factor of 6 all around and the Heavy Armor special ability, which allows it to ignore the first Damage result. About the only drawback to the tank is its relatively low speed of 3, which is further reduced to a 2 by scenario special rule to account for the deep snow. On the other hand, it's a small battlefield, so even that speed is sufficient.

The defending Finns at the start are comprised of troops from the 6th Division represented by German pieces for the most part: Two MG-42 machine gun teams, one PAK 38 37mm Anti-tank gun and one light mortar. There are also three infantry units, but I replaced the German Mausers shown on the scenario sheet with three Finnish Infantry that were not available when the scenario was originally published. They have identical stats so there's no game effect from the substitution. The final element of the Finnish force are two tank hunter teams represented by German Panzerfaust pieces, although there were, of course, no Panzerfausts in 1939. "They represent the bold troops who tackled tanks with satchel charges, Molotov cocktails, and by opening hatches and tossing in grenades."

The battlefield was mostly flat, with some trees and a small knoll on the Soviet side of the map, and two larger hills on the Finnish side. The dominant terrain features were a pair of parallel lines of antitank boulders that stretched across the whole field from north to south, separated by two hexes of open ground. The Soviet objective was to capture and hold at least three hexes of the antitank boulders closest to the Finns. The boulders had no effect on troops, but the KV-1 would have to stop upon reaching one and needed to roll a 1-4 to leave a boulder hex.

Young General decided he wanted the force with the tank.

So the Old Warrior proceeded to set up, placing one machine gun team, the mortar and two infantry on the small hill on the right (South) flank, with the aim of deterring a Soviet advance on that side and having the ability to lay grazing fire down the antitank boulder line. The other machine gun, the ATG and the remaining infantry unit set up on the larger hill. By scenario special rule Finnish units that did not move received automatic "cover" against enemy fire, which basically meant they could not be killed, only disrupted. This was a powerful deterrent to Finnish movement.

As expected, Young General set up mostly on the North side of the battlefield, in front of and beside the forest.

Here is the set up:

The yellow disruption markers mark the boulder lines. The Soviet Objective Marker (from the Gale Force 9 set) shows which line is their victory condition.

And in true Soviet fashion, he made a human wave rush for the boulder line, barely stopping to pop off a shot. The Finns redeployed their riflemen behind the big hill, to form a reserve for the final turns of fighting, while the machine guns blasted away. Unfortunately the marksmanship of the machine gun teams was nothing special, even when the right flank team was able to conduct several turns of grazing fire on the Russian troops huddled among the boulders. The short range of the light mortar forced it to relocate and it ended up getting disrupted a few times, but even so its fire even eliminated a Russian rifle squad. Attempts to slow down the Russian advance by picking off commissars failed as they seemed too good at ducking and generally ended up being disrupted, when they weren't missed entirely.

The 37 mm ATG wasn't able to hurt the infantry, but the KV-1 showed up soon enough and went straight up the middle. The ATG crew must have eaten their Wheaties that morning because on two consecutive turns they managed to roll 6 hits and disrupt the KV-1! Eventually they missed, however, because covering rifle fire from the boulder line disrupted them (and the nearby machine gun team) and the KV-1 lurched forward, unslowed by the first boulder line, and joined the infantry and commissars at the boulder line.

Meanwhile the tank hunter teams had appeared, one on each flank near the first boulder line. The South team had a short career, being gunned down by the KV-1 on Turn 4, but the North team led a charmed life, passing through rifle and pistol fire unscathed to chase the KV-1.

The final act was dramatic, as the Finnish infantry counterattacked to try to drive the Russians out of two of the four boulder line hexes they occupied, with supporting fire from the machine guns and mortar. Meanwhile the ATG popped away as the tank hunter team attempted to close in on the KV-1. Both sides took very heavy losses at the end, with the Soviets cleared from one hex and the KV-1 left holding the key third hex alone. The ATG rolled 7 successes on the KV-1, but its Heavy Armor special ability kicked in, reducing the Damage result to a Disruption. Then the tank hunters attacked on the very last roll, getting just enough successes to get one hit on the KV-1, making it end the game Damaged! The Soviets ended the game holding three hexes and came away with a victory, despite their heavy losses.

The Soviets ended the game with four rifle squads and a damaged heavy tank. All three commissars and 8 squads were lost. The Finns also suffered heavily, losing all three infantry squads and both tank hunter teams.

This is the situation at the end of the game:

The markers are from the Gale Force 9 Axis & Allies marker set.

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